The average 18-wheeler is 70-80 feet long and weighs 40 tons when loaded. With such mass and power, trucks are an imposing presence on the road. They also need 40% more time to come to a complete stop than cars do. So it is no wonder that large trucks come equipped with an arsenal of safety equipment. Some pieces of safety equipment are not that much different from safety accessories used by cars, including tire chains, tire pressure monitoring systems, and back-up sensors and monitors. Other pieces of safety equipment are unique to trucks. These include tire cages, safety lighting, and roadside safety equipment to divert traffic if a truck breaks down on the road.
Recently, major shipping company C.R. England announced that they were putting a Mobileye AWS-4000 safety technology system in each of its 3,500 trucks. These systems use a camera that is programmed with a vision algorithm to detect, predict, and warn drivers of roadside dangers. They are intended to prevent head-on collisions and pedestrian accidents and to warn drivers about lane departures, speed limits, and other dangers on the road. Though the systems are used in private vehicles, Mobileye focuses largely on trucking fleets, since these drivers are on the road for longer periods and can often become fatigued and less aware of their surroundings.
A blog post by Brett Aquila of questions the reliability of these systems. According to Aquila, such systems are dangerous for two reasons. First, they are simply not accurate. Because the environment in which they operate is constantly changing, they cannot make precise predictions about what does and does not constitute a danger. As a result, they give warning signals all the time for dangers that do not actually exist. After a while, truck drivers simply stop paying attention to alerts so that when there actually is a danger, they are zoned out. The second problem is more straightforward: The systems often stop working.
So what happens when these systems or other trucking safety devices malfunction and an accident occurs? Who is legally responsible for the collision? The truth is, there is not a cut and dried answer, and police offers, insurance adjusters, and accident attorneys will have to conduct an extensive investigation to see who is at fault. It could be the driver who acted recklessly, failed to maintain safety protocol, or zoned out, relying on the warnings provided by his safety equipment. It could be the trucking company if it trained its drivers to be overly reliant on technological gadgets and did not enforce proper safety protocol. It could also be the equipment manufacturers. For instance, if a backup monitor did not register that there was a car behind the truck, if a Mobileye system did not provide adequate warning of a head-on collision, or if a tire pressure system did not indicate that there was a problem, the companies that make these devices could be liable. Finally, a combination of the three parties could be held jointly responsible. It takes the work of a dedicated team of investigators to pinpoint who should take the blame when catastrophe strikes on the roads.